This page will take you through the basics of the game, how to play poker, where you can play it and a few poker tips that will help you enhance your poker face.
The Basic Concept of Poker
Poker is not a trick-taking game such as contract bridge or whist. The aim of poker is the finish the hand with the best set of cards while persuading your fellow players to bet on their own hands as highly as possible. If, once all the betting has concluded you have the best hand, then you win all the money or chips your opponents have bet on their own hands.
All poker variants have a least more than one betting round. After each round you may be able to exchange cards to improve your hand, or more community cards (cards that can be used by all players) are added into the mix.
Poker is also a game of incomplete information. In most versions of poker, some cards are dealt face down, and some cards are dealt face up. The skill is determining how valuable your hand is in comparison to your opponents.
Poker is also a rare game in that the best hand does not always necessarily win the pot. If a player is able to persuade all others at the poker table that their hand is the best (even if it is the worst) and they all fold, then that player is able to take the pot without even revealing their cards.
Poker Rules Explained
As mentioned above, there are many different versions of poker, but they all follow the same basic structure as outlined below.
The ante is a small payment that players must make to play the hand. In some versions, all players must pay the ante. In others, only players in certain positions pay an ante.
If playing with friends, players take turns to deal, usually circling the poker table in a clockwise direction. In poker rooms, a casino dealer will always deal the cards. The position of the player who would have dealt is important in most poker games, and is indicated by a marker which is passed around the table during play. The ‘dealer’ is known as the player ‘on the button’.
The dealer will deal the specified number of cards, depending on the game being played. In Texas Hold’em, for example, players each receive two cards face down.
First Betting Round
Players now examine their cards. The value of the ante is regarded as the current highest bet. If a player has paid an ante, they can ‘check’ so their ante becomes their bet. A player may also raise, upping the value of the highest bet. All subsequent players must match the value of the current highest bet to stay in the game. If they do not wish to, they must fold and take no further part in the hand, losing any money they’ve already wagered.
Betting continues until all players are at the maximum bet level, or have folded.
More cards …
In some versions of poker, players may exchange any number of their cards for new ones dealt by the dealer. In others ‘community’ cards are dealt face up in the centre of the poker table. When it comes to the latter case, all players can combine their own cards with the community cards to form the best hand. Players can use any combo, but their hand must contain five cards. This could be their own two cards and three community cards, one/four or even all five community cards.
More betting rounds …
After each draw, another betting round takes place. If during the round all players fold bar one, then the one remaining player is the winner and wins all money bet. The winning player is not obliged to show their hand if this happens.
After all betting rounds are complete, then all players who remain in the deal are forced to reveal their cards. The pot is then awarded to the player with the best hand.
Poker Betting Options
Players have a number of options when it comes to betting on each round. Below are the main ones – note not every option is available with each betting round.
Ante (pre-deal) – a payment some or all players must pay to play the next hand.
Small Blind (pre-deal) – in some games, an ante the player to the left of the dealer/button must pay.
BigBlind (pre-deal) – in some games, an ante the player to the left of the small blind must pay, double the value of the small blind.
Check – if the player whose turn it is to bet already has the biggest or joint-biggest bet on the table, they may ‘check’. This means they can continue in the hand without increasing their bet.
Bet – in variants without antes, the first bet made by a player.
Raise – a bet that raises the current biggest bet on the table.
Re-raise – a bet that raises the current biggest bet on the table after it has been raised in the same betting round.
Call/See – a bet that brings a player’s current bet up to the same level as the biggest bet on the table.
Fold – to make no bet. A player who folds and whose current bet is lower than the current biggest bet on the table is out of the hand, and any chips/money they have bet so far is added to the winning pot.
A poker hand consists of five cards – no more, no less. The value of a hand is determined by the cards it contains. The lowest hand type is ‘High Card’ while the highest is the fabled ‘Royal Flush’. Here we explain each type of hand, ranked from lowest to highest.
10. High Card
a garbage hand, ranked by the highest card it contains.
two cards of the same value, three unmatched cards
8. Two pairs
two sets of two cards of the same value, one unmatched card
7. Three of a kind
three cards of the same value, two unmatched cards
five cards in sequence
five cards of the same suit
4. Full house
a pair and three of a kind
3. Four of a kind
four cards of the same value, one unmatched card
2. Straight flush
five cards of the same suit in sequence
1. Royal flush
AKQJT of the same suit
Individual Hand Value
A hand’s overall value also depends on the cards it contains. For example, a pair of 9s beats a pair of 8s, while a Q-high straight beats a J-high straight. This is only when the type of hand is matched, though. A 6-high straight beats three As, as a straight always beats three of a kind.
In the case of a tied hand (for example, two pairs of Qs) the unmatched cards come into play to determine the best hand. These are known as ‘kickers’. Say the two full hands were QQJ87 and QQ952. The first hand would win as the biggest ‘kicker’ is a J.
Ties are possible in poker, as no suit is ranked higher than another, unlike contract bridge. So, if both hands were QQJ87 it would be a tie and the pot would be shared.
Main Poker Variants
As we have mentioned a few times, saying there’s a game called ‘poker’ is like saying there’s sport called ‘football’ – is it true football (i.e. what some call soccer), or American football, or rugby football, or Aussie Rules football, or Canadian football … ?
Right below we take a look at the main poker variants you might want to consider when commencing your poker experience.
Draw Poker is where it all started. Players are dealt five cards, followed by a betting round. Players can then draw – exchange as many of their cards (or none) for new ones, dealt by the dealer. There is then a second round of betting, followed by the showdown. Then, in cowboy movies at least, someone gets shot dead.
Stud poker is more of a variant than a single game. The game of stud poker refers to any form of poker when players receive some cards dealt face up, and some cards face down, with the face up cards not being community cards. There can be any number of betting rounds as determined by the exact nature of the game being played.
The most popular form of poker played today, and the most popular played online. Each player is dealt two cards face down, followed by a betting round. Then three community cards (‘the flop’) are dealt face up in the centre of the table, followed by another round of betting. Next, another card (‘the turn’) is added to the community pile followed by betting, then a final one (‘the river’). Players then make up their best possible hand using five of the seven cards available to them. A final betting round ensues, followed by the showdown should more than one player remain in the hand.
A cousin of Texas Hold’em but not as popular as it is harder to work out the best hand and hands can change greatly depending on the community cards. In Omaha, players are dealt four cards face-down instead of two, and their final hand must contain exactly two of their own cards, and three community cards. The betting rounds are the same as Texas Hold’em. Note there are a few different versions of Omaha, with the most common being Omaha-Hi (which in most places is just called Omaha).
Other, Not So Popular, Variants
Badugi – a form of draw poker with four cards where cards of identical value or suit do not contribute to the value of the hand.
Seven Card Draw – a popular form of draw poker where a player receives seven cards as opposed to five and forms their best hand from five of them.
Razz – a form of stud poker where the lowest-ranked hand wins, not the highest.
Omaha Hi/Lo – a type of Omaha where players simultaneously make their best hand and their worst. The pot is split between the player with the best hand, and the player with the worst even if it’s the same player.
HORSE – not a variant, plus a form of poker where each type is played in sequence one hand at a time – Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud and Eight or Better. Eight or Better is a form of stud with high hands and low hands splitting the pot. A qualifying low hand must no card higher than an eight.
How to Play Poker for Beginners
We have to be honest here, we don’t think that online poker is a game for beginners unless those beginners have done their homework. Poker sites are awash with players who have been playing poker for years, if not decades. Your chip stack will be swiftly devoured if you head to a poker room without knowing if a straight beats a flush, or what hands are worth betting on, and which are not.
Here though are some top tips that will help you get the best from your fledgling poker room experiences.
Start with video poker
If you’re unclear about the value of hands, start with video poker. This is a version of draw poker played on your own. This will get you used to the value of the hands, and the frequency in which they come up.
Don’t play social poker
Social poker rooms are rooms where players play with ‘play chips’ – they don’t lose any money, and they don’t win any money. However, social poker and poker for real money are completely different things and the game plays in a completely different way. If you take your social poker skills to a real money table, you’ll soon be left free of chips.
Start with Hold’em
Once you venture online, play Texas Hold’em. This is the most popular game meaning it will have the most players. You are less likely to find yourself sat at a table brimming with poker sharks if you play Hold’em.
Start with cash games, lowest blinds
Cash poker games are tables where you can join and leave at any time. The blinds are the antes you have to pay when you are seated near the dealer, so start as low as you can go. Even the best poker players began by playing for pennies.
Try freerolls –
Once you’re comfortable with low blinds cash games, enter a few freerolls. You are unlikely to win and even if you do, you won’t win much but as they are free to enter, you won’t lose anything. They serve as a great introduction to MTTs and Sit & Go’s.
Impatient poker players are losing poker players. If you get dealt bad hole cards time and time again, don’t throw your chips in on another bad hand just because you’re bored. Learn which hands are worth betting on and wait to be dealt them.
Don’t take it personally
Players tilt if they feel other players are bullying them by repeatedly winning or betting big. Don’t go all-in with a weak hand just because you’ve taken a dislike to other players at the table. If you do find yourself not having fun, try a different table or walk away completely.
Advanced Poker Strategy
No matter what anyone may tell you, poker is simply a game of numbers. It’s the probability of your hand winning against the probability of the other player’s hands winning. The question is – how do you work out that probability?
If you are playing Hold’em, you don’t have to work out the probability of your opening hole cards. It’s just a question of knowing which hands you play with, and which hands you don’t:
Hands you play with:
Any pair, 8s or higher
Any two high cards (AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, QJ)
Any suited cards in sequence (i.e. seven & eight of clubs)
Any suited cards with a one-gap (i.e the J and nine of diamonds)
Ace and any card of the same suit
Hands you don’t play with:
Of course, these rules are not set in stone. If pre-flop the betting is already juicy and you’ve 86 of spades, you’d be a fool to add to the juice.
WARNING! Here come the numbers. One of the best ways of working out whether it is worth your while staying in a hand is via pot odds. This is where you compare the ‘odds of the pot’ against your hand.
Working out pots odds is not hard – it’s the current value of the pot divided by the amount you’re required to bet to stay in the hand. Say there’s £50 in the pot, and you need to put in £5 to stay in. The pot odds are 50/5, or 10/1.
Now comes the tricky part – working out the value of your hand. Most people do this by ‘outs’ which are cards needed to improve your hand.
Say your hole cards are J9 of clubs and the flop is Th 8s Js. You have a pair of Jacks already, but that’s probably not going to be enough to win the hand. So what are your ‘outs’ ? We’re about to tell you:
There are two Jacks which will give you three of a kind
There are three tens, three nines and three eights that will give you two pairs
There are four sevens, and four Queens that will give you a straight
So, you have 19 outs. There are 47 unseen cards, so your chances are improving your hand is 47/19 or around 5/2. As your pot odds are 10/1 then you call. In fact, you may wish to raise to make other players face pots odds close to 5/2, as you have a significant number of outs.
Of course, it’s not just about numbers. There are also 28 cards that won’t improve your hand. You may get two pairs only for someone to have pocket tens. Someone may have Q9 and have already completed a straight. Someone may have two spades and another spade comes out on the turn or the river. Poker is a game of numbers, but it’s also a game of experience and many times, luck. You can only guarantee experience by playing poker, and you can only guarantee luck by … well, if you know please write in and tell us!
Choosing the Right Poker Room
You are perhaps a little fortunate when it comes to choosing the right online poker site as you are a little limited on your choices, to some extent. There are just four dedicated poker rooms and one poker network in the UK and while there are almost two dozen sites on the iPoker network you will find they are roughly the same. However, you still need to still make the right choices when it comes to choosing the poker room that is right for you.
Make sure it has the right poker games – If you are just a SNG player, then there is no point in playing at a site that doesn’t have them! In truth most sites cover a lot of options, but if you want something like Razz, then you will need to check if the site you are considering has the game.
Make sure it has the right blinds – are y0u a high roller, or do you like to play for pennies? Most sites will have cash games with blinds as small as 1¢/2¢, but it’s best to check. If you like to splash out, though, check to see if the site has limits that fit your high roller budget?
Want to play IRL? – such is the demand of real-world tournaments such as WSOP and the EPL, such competitions begin their qualification procedures online. If you fancy sitting down at tables with poker millionaires, then make sure the site you sign up for has the necessary satellites.
When do you want to play? – in the UK the majority of poker play takes place in the evenings and weekends, but what if you are a shift worker and you need your poker action at 4am? Check the site’s traffic to see if there are likely to be enough players around when you want to play.
Here is how our selections for the best poker sites compare. It is taken as read that they all have cash/ring games, MTTs and SNGs, as they all do:
Spin & Go Hold’em
AoF, Spin & Gold
Av. players is the average number of players online at any one time over the course of a week. Most players is the most players online at the same time over the same period.
Can I learn to play 3 card poker here?
How to play 3 card poker?? Three card poker (also called ‘brag’) is a UK invention that’s not really taken seriously. You are far better off learning how to play Texas Hold’em poker, or Omaha. Learning how to play poker in the UK can be achieved easily as there are multiple resources.
What’s the best way to learn how to play poker for beginners?
Get to know the best poker hands first. Increase your recognition of winning hands by playing video poker. Then learn which poker hands to play, and which to fold. When you start to play poker for real money, stick to ring games with the lowest blinds possible, i.e. 1¢/2¢.
How do I memorise the poker hand rankings?
You will just become accustomed to poker hand rankings. They do make logical sense, but the two to remember is that a flush beats a straight, and three of a kind beats two pairs.
What the best way to learn how to play Omaha poker?
Omaha poker is a tough form of poker as there are more cards, and therefore more variables involved. We suggest you begin with video poker, then move onto learning how to play Texas Holdem poker before you tackle Omaha.
What are community cards in poker?
These are cards in some poker variants that are dealt face up in the centre of the table. Any player may (Holdem) or is forced to (Omaha) use the cards in order to complete their best possible hand.
A vastly experienced sports betting specialist, Peter joined SafeBettingSites in 2021 as a sports editor. Peter has been focusing on the iGaming realm since 2013, and had written millions of words on all aspects of online casino play and sports betting since then. His articles have been featured in numerous high-profile online publications. When not writing, Peter can be found playing his electric guitar. He is such a talented guitarist that his next-door neighbours often join in, adding percussion by banging loudly on the walls.